Remembered for having single-handedly prevented the drowning deaths of nearly fifty people, this English-born diver, sailor, and hero aided in the rescue of an additional one-hundred-and-twenty distressed swimmers.
In his early teens, while traveling to Quebec as a sailor-in-training, he rescued his first person, another nautical apprentice who had tumbled overboard. Several years later, he saved his second person-- the captain of a capsized vessel.
From the 1860s through the 1890s, he was employed as a diver by both the River Wear Commissioners and the Sunderland Lifeboat and Life Brigade.
He and his four older siblings were raised in poverty in Sunderland, England, as the children of Elizabeth Watts and mariner William Watts. His first marriage, to Rebecca Smith, began in 1846; he later married Sarah Ann Thompson, with whom he had two children.
Wealthy businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, upon meeting Watts, described him as the most heroic man he had ever had the privilege of knowing.